Kraków

Quote from Otto Thierack. Minister of Justice to the Third Reich:

“We must free the German Nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies”

Our official tour guide collected us from our camp site and drove us by minibus to Auschwitz and Birkenau. We were surprised how busy it was – the car park was full of coaches. The site had 2.2 million visitors a year, many were youngsters. Our guide explained that it was expected that all Polish school children visit the extermination camps at least once.

After lunch our guide took us on a tour of the nearby city of Kraków. We saw the once prosperous Jewish Quarter from which the Nazis forced thousands of Jews from their homes and herded them into an overcrowded ghetto, surrounded by concrete walls. Many Jews perished in the ghetto through disease and starvation.

The city’s tramway ran through the ghetto but the trams did not stop. People on the outside would risk brutal recrimination trying to help the ghetto dwellers by throwing them food and medicines from the trams. Beyond the ghetto we saw the building which had been the factory of Oscar Schindler (Film: Schinder’s List). We saw the Ghetto Heroes Square which was a memorial to those who had died. In the square were displayed a number of oversize bronze chairs, symbolic of the Jewish diaspora.

I foolishly remarked to our guide that the arrival of the Communists after the war must have seemed a softer option than the brutality of the Nazis. He disagreed saying that the Russians caused more harm to Poland than the Nazis ever did. In order to avoid opposition to the Communist regime, Stalin ordered the annihilation of all Polish dissidents. The military leaders were murdered as well as doctors, professors, lawyers, accountants and teachers. Poland’s educated classes were completely destroyed.

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